Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cutting the cable cord, Part 1

Ed. note: A very special guest post from Peter on our nearly never-ending saga to ditch cable!

Like any good teacher, I have kept myself busy for the last two months. I got married and went on an amazing trip. I played a lot of golf, and I thought about how to incorporate the True Story of the Three Little Pigs into a ninth grade history classroom. But mostly I have been researching and experimenting with how to watch TV without being a cable subscriber.

Earlier this year, our cable and internet bill started to creep up towards $140 a month. I never thought of Julie and me as serious TV watchers, in fact, we only watch a handful of shows. $1,680 a year seemed like far too much to pay for internet and a handful of shows. Think of all the DVDs we could buy for that much money! So on the day we drove up to the Berkshires to get our marriage license, we stopped at our local Time Warner Cable office and cancelled our cable (but kept the internet). The Time Warner office was a visual reminder of everything we hate about the company: posters for shows and movies we will never watch, long lines, crabby employees, and racist old men. Seriously. Good Riddance.

It felt wonderful.

New Solutions

Once we got home in August, I started to research new solutions. The first product I found was Playon. Playon is software that runs in the background of your computer, and uses your home network to run a browser on the Wii, Xbox360, or Playstation 3. We have a Wii, and they were offering a two week free trial. Once installed, the Playon home screen on the Wii looks a bit like an iphone: there are several buttons for different apps that have already been installed, including a Hulu app. It allows you to search for everything currently on hulu.com. There are similar apps for cbs.com, mtv.com, Netflix, espn.com, nfl.com, and the indispensable ultimatefighter.com.

In theory, Playon is great, and I think the future of TV will look something like this, with the user subscribing to specific channels they want. In practice, it works just well enough to be extremely frustrating. My computer is old, and while it meets Playon’s minimum requirements, it uses most of the computer’s power to do it. I frequently had to restart because the software was making everything run slowly, causing the video to get choppy.

But the main problem is that many of the channels, like CBS and Hulu, just don’t work consistently. Often, a show stops working halfway through. This is annoying and time consuming since there is no fast forward when you have to start over. Playon has been furiously developing new versions and each one seems to be one step forward and two steps back. We found ourselves watching the same shows on my computer monitor and gave up trying to watch them on the TV. When the two week trial ended, we decided not to pay the $40 a year subscription fee.

Sorry Playon, the world just isn’t ready for you yet.

Something that works!

Near the end of our time with Playon, we subscribed to Netflix. I had been a Netflix member years ago, but cancelled it because I wasn’t using it enough. But with Netflix streaming now available on the Wii (have I mentioned we have a Wii?), we decided to try it.

It works wonderfully. The picture quality seems to be just as good as DVD (maybe better?), and there is no lag. Unlike Playon, if you need to stop a movie to finish the next day, it lets you restart where you left off. For $9 a month, we get one real Netflix disk at a time and unlimited streaming. The listings for what we can watch streaming are somewhat limited, but it seems like the list of available movies and TV shows will continue to grow.

Although the Netflix streaming catalogue is far from complete, that is mostly due to contractual issues with major studios. That means that the streaming catalogue is filled with independent movies, documentaries, and stand-up comedy specials.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of cutting the cable cord later this week!


  1. Genious. Love Netflix. Not an avid tv watcher.... Let's see what boat shoes thinks!

  2. We've been considering cutting our cable, too. Sounds like it's working for you guys! The only thing we would really miss if we went the Netflix route is live sports. What do you think?

  3. Wait to see what I have to say about sports in part 2 - coming Friday!


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